Palou Surprise Victor In INDYCAR Opener At Barber

Alex Palou celebrates his first NTT IndyCar Series win in victory lane at Barber Motorsports Park. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

Alex Palou celebrates his first NTT IndyCar Series win in victory lane at Barber Motorsports Park. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

By Joe Jennings

Alex Palou was a surprise victor in the NTT IndyCar Series opener at the well-groomed Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham, Alabama. The season opened much later than usual – 175 days after the season finale at St. Petersburg in 2020.

The 24-year-old made his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing a sparkling one as he led 59 of the 90 laps around the twisting 2.37-mile, 17-turn road course. In winning, he became the third Ganassi driver to win in the first-time out, joining Michael Andretti and the late Dan Wheldon in this category.

“I don’t know what to say,” Palou said, “It has been an amazing weekend. It was my first Fast Six (in qualifying) and today my team just gave me the best car. I just had to do the obvious things right, as Chip likes to say, and we kept it simple. I’m just super, super happy. When Chip leaned into the window, he said, ‘Welcome to the winners club.’”

Palou planned to celebrate with a fried chicken dinner after the evening down.
The victor drove the SEGI TV Honda and became only the second Spaniard to win in IndyCar since Oriol Servia did so in Montreal 15 years ago.

Adhering to a two-stop strategy seemingly made the difference as the top-three finishers followed the same plan while everyone else opted for three stops. Palou was aided by 10 laps of caution at the outset, which allowed him to save fuel.

Mayhem on the opening lap triggered the first slowdown for six laps. It started when Josef Newgarden got sideways while running in a pack in turn 5, and it involved the cars of Colton Herta, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Felix Rosenqvist.

Newgarden and Hunter-Reay were eliminated on the spot but the others returned to action after making repairs. Newgarden took the blame and apologized to those who got involved in the mess he created.

Shortly after the restart, NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson spun harmlessly off the course, bringing out the second and final yellow flag for the day.

When the actual racing started, front-row starters Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi took off and seemed to have the race going their way; that is until the pit strategies started to unfold. The lead duo was on a 3-stop plan and once they did so, they seemed to get buried in the field and didn’t have the speed to regain the front, although Ward did lead 25 laps.

Palou had planned on doing three stops, but after the 10 laps of slowdown at the beginning, his team elected to go for the 2-stop effort because of their fuel-saving methods. The winner went on to say, “To be honest, I saw that Rossi and Pato were not saving much fuel and I was wondering why they didn’t do so.”

Once Palou took command, he wasn’t to be denied, although Will Power made a valiant effort to catch up. The former champion managed to close the gap and ended up .401 seconds back when the checkered flag dropped for the closest finish ever at Barber.
Power blamed himself for not being able to over-take Palou, but he was satisfied with the finish after four dismal performances in previous series openers.

Six-time champion Scott Dixon maneuvered into third nearly 3 seconds back, putting two Ganassi entries on the podium.

O’Ward came in fourth with Sebastien Bourdais coming from 16th to 5th, for a strong finish for the A. J. Foyt Racing team.

Rinus VeeKay garnered 6th followed by Graham Rahal, Marcus Ericsson, Rossi and Romain Grosjean, the top rookie finisher. Ericsson also drives for Ganassi, giving the team three top-eight finishers.

Sixteen cars finished on the lead lap.

Johnson completed 87 laps and was pleased with the outcome of his rookie debut was car-owner Ganassi, who complimented the NASCAR champion for his exceptional determination and the leadership qualities he brought to the team.

Admittedly, he had a pair of scary moments – barely missing the first lap wreck and his own spin four laps later. Johnson said he learned a lot and was pleased to have finished the race.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Results
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Results Sunday of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Alex Palou, Honda, 90, Running
2. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 90, Running
3. (5) Scott Dixon, Honda, 90, Running
4. (1) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 90, Running
5. (16) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 90, Running
6. (14) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 90, Running
7. (18) Graham Rahal, Honda, 90, Running
8. (6) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 90, Running
9. (2) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 90, Running
10. (7) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 90, Running
11. (11) Jack Harvey, Honda, 90, Running
12. (15) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 90, Running
13. (19) Takuma Sato, Honda, 90, Running
14. (12) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 90, Running
15. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 90, Running
16. (10) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 90, Running
17. (24) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 89, Running
18. (23) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 89, Running
19. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 87, Running
20. (20) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 86, Running
21. (22) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 62, Contact
22. (9) Colton Herta, Honda, 25, Contact
23. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 0, Contact
24. (17) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 0, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 110.025 mph
Time of race: 1:52:53.0361
Margin of victory: 0.4016 of a second
Cautions: 2 for 8 laps
Lead changes: 10 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pato O’Ward 1-17
Alex Palou 18-30
Will Power 31-33
Sebastien Bourdais 34-36
O’Ward 37-41
Palou 42-60
Power 61
Bourdais 62
Rinus VeeKay 63
O’Ward 64-66
Palou 67-90

NTT INDYCAR SERIES point standings: Palou 53, Power 41, Dixon 35, O’Ward 34, Bourdais 31, VeeKay 29, Rahal 26, Ericsson 24, Rossi 22, Grosjean 20.

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